Tue, Apr 24, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Virginia Tech students make somber return

AP , BLACKSBURG, VIRGINIA

Virginia Tech students made a somber return to campus, pausing yesterday for a moment of silence to remember the 32 students murdered a week ago in a gunman's rampage.

Students and faculty gathered at about 7:10am near the dormitory where the first victims, Ryan Clark and Emily Hilscher, were killed. They also gathered on the main campus lawn, the site of several impromptu memorials to the victims.

In front of the dorm, a small marching band from Alabama played "America the Beautiful" and carried a banner that read, "Alabama loves VT Hokies. Be strong, press on."

By the time the moment concluded, more than 100 people had gathered to remember the dead. Afterward, a group of students and campus ministers brought 33 white prayer flags -- one for each of the dead, including the gunman, Cho Seung-hui -- from the dorm to the school's War Memorial Chapel. They placed the flags in front of the campus landmark and adorned them with pastel-colored ribbons.

"You could choose to either be sad, or cheer up a little and continue the regular routine," said student Juan Carlos Ugarte, 22. "Right now, I think all of us need to cheer up."

Ugarte wrote a message on a yellow ribbon for one of the victims, Reema Samaha. "God will forever be with you. I will always pray for you, and remember."

At 9:45am -- the time of the second shooting -- the university planned a moment of silence, with a single bell tolling from the tower of the main administration building. A minute later, the bell was due to toll 32 times -- once for each victim -- as 32 white balloons were released from the field below.

Classes were to resume yesterday, one week after Cho killed himself after his murderous rampage.

University officials were not sure how many students planned to be back yesterday. Virginia Tech is allowing students to drop classes without penalty or to accept their current grades if they want to spend the rest of the year at their parents' homes grieving last week's campus massacre.

But whatever decisions they make academically, many students say they will do their mourning on campus -- and that they cannot imagine staying away now.

"I want to go back to class just to be with the other students. If you just left without going back to classes, you would just go home and keep thinking about it," said Ryanne Floyd, who returned to campus after spending most of last week with her family and avoiding news coverage of the tragedy. "At least here, being with other students, we can get some kind of closure."

Students began returning as more details about the rampage emerged. Doctor William Massello, the assistant state medical examiner in Roanoke, said Cho died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head after firing enough shots to wound his 32 victims more than 100 times.

But there was nothing unusual about Cho's autopsy, he said, and nothing that indicated any psychological problems that might explain his reason for the killings.

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